U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) today announced that the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 (Farm Bill) includes provisions that benefit Maryland agriculture including greenhouse and nursery products, wineries, watermelons, apples, dairy and poultry. Agriculture is the state's largest commercial industry and employs approximately 350,000 people. In 2010, Maryland's 12,800 farms contributed $2 billion to the state's economy.
"Maryland's number one industry is agriculture," Senator Mikulski said. "Together with our farmers and small businesses, those who work on Maryland's farms and in our federal labs, universities and other research facilities are supporting our economic future and keeping our nation healthy. I am so proud these federal dollars will help support Maryland's farmers and a safe, reliable food supply."
The Farm Bill establishes a stronger, more reliable safety net by allowing dairy producers to choose to opt into the margin protection program which focuses on the margin of the price of milk minus feed costs. Participating producers can also participate in a market stabilization program designed to slow production when the market is oversaturated. Maryland has approximately 54,000 dairy cows that produce more than one billion pounds of milk per year. Under the new margin protection program, most of Maryland's farms will be able to cover their entire production at the reduced rate.
The bill increases specialty crop block grants from $55 million to $70 million per year. Maryland has received more than $1.7 million dollars from the program. These funds allow the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) to increase support to producers of crops including greenhouse and nursery products, watermelons and apples for training programs, research, marketing, education, pest and disease management, and food safety. The program also benefits Maryland's 52 licensed wineries.
The Farm bill also requires the USDA to study the feasibility of creating an insurance program to protect poultry growers in the event of bankruptcies of their integrator as well as an insurance program to protect growers in the event of a catastrophic disease outbreak. In addition, the bill establishes poultry feed as a high-priority research and extension activity within the USDA. Feed costs are approximately two-thirds of a poultry growers fixed cost. This research will improve feed and provide more variety. Maryland brings in more than $900 million annually in poultry and egg sales.